For those of us who are believers in an objective reality, however problematic our understanding and interpretation of it may be, it may seem to be an obvious thing to divide fact and fiction. For many people, literature and art obviously exist on the fiction side of this divide and history and other social and physical sciences exist on the other side. There are, of course, a great deal of boundary cases that attract a high degree of hostility and conflict, such as the way that theology and various fields of critical studies are viewed as obviously objective by some and entirely subjective on the other. While it might seem as if such matters were trivial and unimportant, there is a great deal of cultural power in being on one side of this divide as opposed to the other, in that those productions which are judged as factual carry with them some sort of explanatory power that is denied to that which is considered to be mere fiction.
Yet it must be readily admitted that the divide between the two is not as cut and dry as it is often viewed as being. Some genres that are viewed as clearly within the camp of fiction nevertheless may contain a high degree of realism in their portrayal of human characters (as is the case with realistic fiction) or historical events (as is the case with historical fiction from our best writers of that genre). Similarly, works of natural and other subgenres of history regularly contain invented episodes that describe life in the past and how people spoke or behaved in the absence of recorded accounts. Even the existence of autobiographical accounts is fraught with the problem of fictionality in that people do not always record reality faithfully, and regularly fabricate accounts to suit their own purposes. This is not even getting into the even more pervasive and problematic fictionality of the explanatory filters that we use to interpret the past according to our own biased worldviews, which may lead us to have a view of others and of the past and of the world around us that in no way resembles reality except in our own fevered imaginations.
Any attempt to tie nonfictional genres to some sort of more or less accurate (if not necessarily perfect) correspondence with reality automatically gets us entangled in problems of recognizing and understanding that reality. If, for example, the means we use to date the past or to characterize the behavior of others or the existence or nonexistence of various phenomena are inaccurate, how “factual” are our accounts of the world around us? If, for example, we hold highly subjective personal opinions to be the basis of objective reality, we will support fictions as blatant if far less honest and enjoyable as anything in art and literature. On the other hand, if we have a fundamentally accurate understanding of the world, ourselves, and others, even our artistic creations that are avowed fictions will nonetheless contain a great deal of truth and fact that is highly worthwhile to others in it, far more, at any rate, than a history or social science or scientific text that is based on an improper worldview basis.
We might therefore note that worldview error is sufficient to make one’s creations clearly fiction–because based on falsehood–while someone whose worldview is correct provides some sort of fact and truth even in one’s fabrications and creations, because truth cannot help but come out of that which is constructed out of the raw materials of reality, even when creatively combined. Yet as human beings we are not well equipped to understand the veracity of our worldviews, since worldviews are not proven by what we see and experience but are rather the filters by which we see and interpret and understand reality. Our worldviews are the foundation on which we build, and it is the course of time and the judgment of God, which often amount to the same thing, that reveals whether we have built on the bedrock or built on the shifting sands. To the extent that we have been deceived about reality, our efforts will find themselves to be broken by reality. To the extent that we have understood reality and acted in accordance to sound principles, our works will endure to be recognized by those who are similarly wise and discerning.